Impulsive Habitat

Interview received: December 1 and 6, 2016; April 18, 2017.

What is your name?

We are James McDougall, Pedro Leitâo, Juan José Calarco and David Vélez

Where are you located?

Australia, Portugal, Argentina and Colombia respectively and our mother-label Monocromatica is based in Portugal.

Do you save any materials – digital files, emails, physical materials – related to your netlabel? Are you interested in organizing or archiving them?

Not really the label is an archive by itself with over 115 releases.

How do you define what is and what is not a netlabel?

A label that publishes albums on the internet using digital formats instead of physical formats such as CDs, vinyls, cassettes, reel tapes or usb drives, etc.

How and when did you first learn about netlabels?

On 2004, a great year for net labels.

Why do you consider 2004 to be a great year for netlabels?

Because the idea was fresh and so many labels published great material that year.

What was the first netlabel you heard of?

Cannot remember, probably Kikapu.

What are some netlabels that inspired or influenced you? Or that you admire?

Testtube, Kikapu, Observatory.

How did the four of you come together to work on the label?

Pedro was established already in the world of labels with Monocromatica and James, Juan and David published on his label, and this is how it begun.

What made you decide to start your own netlabel?

Our desire to create a concept of distribution and curatorial guidelines.

Can you elaborate on that?

Distribution, we make our material exclusive, what you get on Impulsive Habitat you don’t get it anywhere else.  Curatorial we receive projects and we also invite artists. The guidelines are simple, good formal quality and relevant subjects of sonic exploration.

What were the reasons you had to choose releasing music for free? And why did you choose to not release physical albums?

Because it was cheaper.

What is the name of your netlabel?

Impulsive Habitat.

Why did you choose the name you chose?

After the lyrics of speed metal band Slayer.

When did you start your netlabel?


What is the focus of you netlabel?

Sound art compositions using field, studio and other recordings.

Are your albums released under creative commons, copyleft or copyright? Why did you choose the method you chose?

Creative commons.

What is your relationship to the artists that you release? Do you maintain any contact once you’ve released their work? Do you help promote them outside of their release itself?

So many artists that is impossible to generalize.

How do you decide what artists you want to release? Do you approach them? Do they approach you? Do you have any specific guidelines that you follow? Do you act as a curator or is it all luck of the draw?

We receive proposals and we also invite artists. Juan Calarco is the director of curatorial duties and he has helped defined the aesthetics of our label.

How does Juan define the aesthetics of the label – is it his personal taste? Was there a specific goal in mind? Something else?

Juan is very critical and his attention to detail is fantastic.

What are your criteria for the music you curate and release?

Quality. Juan Calarco our head curator is very careful with every detail and with the overall compositional structure of the material. This is the biggest reason of our success.

What genres have you never released before, that you would love to release on your label or on a future label of yours? 

Today we are very open within our strict criteria.

Are there any artists that you have yet to release that you would like to work with? Or that you always wished you had been able to work with? 

We certainly would like to publish works by artists from the Caribbean in Central America, the Middle East between Asia and Africa and the south of Africa.

How many albums have you released?

By the end of this year over 120.

Who are some of your most notable artists?

We have published the work of people like Christian Alvear, Yann Leguay, Marc Behrens, Simon Whetham, Slavek Kwi, Jeph Jerman, Sebastian Hegarty, Rodolphe Alexis, Frederic Nogray, Seth Cooke, D’Incise and Keneth Kirschner who are very active publishing releases and performing concerts around the globe.

Which are some of your most significant releases?

Too many too mention.

Do you release your own work on your netlabel? What do you think of that practice?

Juan, James and David have all published in the label but this year none of us have, maybe because we prefer to publish elsewhere now.

Why do you now prefer to release your work elsewhere?

Because we prefer to give that space to other artists.

What do you enjoy about running your netlabel? What do you get out of it?

We love when the releases are published and when we receive an amazing proposals.

What are some difficult things about running the label? Or what are some challenges?

To remain active and fresh and relevant when the netlabel figure is in complete obsolescence.

Has anything about it been disappointing or frustrating?

To see how Bandcamp killed net labels has been a little hard, but we welcome all kind of changes and challenges.

What keeps you motivated to continue running the netlabel when you are or were feeling frustrated? 

We have never felt frustrated even though there have been a few small set backs over the years. As in every project we have questioned our future, but Impulsive Habitat always finds its way to continue publishing albums. Every time a new album is published, every time we receive a great proposal, or every time we contact a great artist willing to release with us, we feel as excited and motivated as on day one.

How much time do you put into running the label? Approximate hours per day, week or month?

We release albums on batches of 5 or 4, every three months so the days prior to publication are usually very busy.

Can you describe all the work that you do on a regular basis in order to run your label?

When we started we worked very hard to gain a name, then we worked very hard put this name on the top and now we fight very hard against obsolescence, all with fantastic results.

How do you divide up the work between the four of you?

David is the Director, Juan is the Chief Curator, Pedro is the Website Director and James is a Consultant Curator. We all work as curators under Juan’s guidance.

In what audio format and bitrate do/did you release your albums? 

FLAC and mp3 at 320 kbps / constant.

Why did you choose that format? 

Because mp3 files are light and quick to download even with slow connections, and FLAC because of its sound quality / file size ratio.

Do you zip your files into a package? Or are the albums uploaded as individual files? 

We offer both alternatives.

Aside from the audio files, do you include any other types of files or information with the album? 

An artwork with back and front covers, all on hi-res so people can print them if they want to. Some releases come with a PDF book and we have linked a few of our releases with related videos.

What software programs do you use to run your netlabel? For converting and encoding audio, for metadata, for ftp, for making cover art, etc.?

A. Does it matter?

Where do you share your releases? On your website? Free Music Archive? Internet Archive? Et al? A combination of these things?

On our website. Some of the reasons of our success is our design concept, our curatorial line and our full independence and autonomy from online archives and other free platforms.

What do you do to promote your label?

We use Facebook and sponsor events in Colombia.

Do you send releases out for review? If yes, is it traditional media – review sites, magazines, blogs, etc. Or are there non-traditional methods?

We did but failed, apparently critics and reviewers are only interested in physical releases.

Have you had success in getting people in general to listen to your releases?

Yes, people know IH and listen to IH.

Do you keep track of your download numbers and, if yes, how have they changed over the years? 

We did through the first years but not ever since. Back then the software was a little complex so we began to avoid checking. Finally we gave up and for some mysterious reason we are not planning to do it again.

How important are download numbers and number of listeners to you?

We don’t care about the download numbers, we measure our success in other ways, but some artists ask for download numbers when they consider submitting their material to us. Maybe they are curators that consider the download numbers, among other things, before handing a residency spot, an invitation, a prize or a grant to a certain artist. Maybe they are also artists that count how many copies of their work have been sold or downloaded to present themselves as a proven success.

Do you feel that the lack of a physical object – vinyl, cassette, eight track, etc. – is a hindrance to building an audience? To getting any media to pay attention? If yes, why do you think that is the case?

This is a fetishist society, we like objects, we like shopping, we like to store things in our shelves.

Has the lack of a physical object been a problem for any of the artists that you have worked with? If it has how have you responded?

You should ask them.

In addition to promotion, publicity and releasing albums do you organize live performances or festivals for your artists?

Impulsive Habitat sponsored the Frequencias, Radar and Satellite sound art festivals in Colombia between 2011 and 2015.

How do you finance your netlabel, including the labor you put into it?

Monocromatica label is our major financier.

What do you think your label’s legacy might be? 

We have made great music by great artists available for anybody in the world with internet connection, a computer and a pair of speakers or headphones; we have made quality sound art accessible to as much people as possible and we feel very proud about that. Likewise we believe that content is more important than format, therefore today we thrive as a netlabel while everybody is obsessed with buying and listening to tapes, vinyl’s and CDs.

Do you feel that you are filling a niche that other labels are not?

Not really, although we consider ourselves one of a kind.

Can you explain how the relationships between Monocromatica and its subsidiary labels work?

They give us full freedom, which we love.

What do you think about Bandcamp and any similar music hosting sites?

Bandcamp killed net-labels, but we don’t see it as a bad thing, just as a challenge.

Do you think netlabels are sustainable? If yes, what do you think the future is for them? Should there be more?

Things are cyclic so net-labels might comeback sometime. They were sustainable until they continued being appealing, not anymore.

Why do you think that netlabels are now unappealing?

Because people can use platforms like Bandcamp and release their material without going into any curatorial processes, releasing what they want when they want it. This is why there is an over population of online releases, because nobody is making a selection or creating a filter which is what netlabels did or at least tried to do.

Are there too many netlabels?

We wouldn’t know, we don’t keep much of a track on them.

Will netlabels be obsolete before 2025?

Tough question. All I could say is that we hope to continue publishing through 2025 which is only 8 years from now, the same number of years that we have been releasing music.

How do you feel that netlabels as a phenomenon overlap with any other artist practices – cassette trading, mail art, etc? Is there any overlap with podcasts, podfiction/netfiction, or any other art that is distributed for free?

On Impuslive Habitat we want to explore the idea of radio in 2017/2018.

Are you aware of a chronological history of netlabels? If yes, what is it?


Is there anything else you would like to write about that wasn’t included here?

Thanks for the invitation.

What questions would you ask other people who run netlabels?

Do you keep a track on your downloads? How much have they dropped over the past four years?